Thesis Proposal: Part IX – Proposal 4

I wrote this in an attempt to summarize where I thought my thesis was at the time.  Looking back on it compared to what we were actually talking about, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking!  I only wrote the introduction part of my thesis proposal because I didn’t want to move on without the introduction being solid.

My advisor started saying something at this meeting that he would keep saying at the end of all of our meetings: “Keep it simple.”


The subject of my thesis is how autism advocacy organizations approach science illustrates not only how they advocate, but who and what they advocate for.

Autism Speaks is the self-described “world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization.”  However, looking further into their practices shows what they really advocate for: the eradication of autism.  They pursue this objective through science.  Autism Speaks funds, reports on, and is influenced by science. After analyzing Theory of Mind (ToM), or the ability to know what other people are thinking and feeling (an ability autistic people supposedly lack), it can be shown that ToM is, at best, a pseudoscience, and at worst, an enthymematically dehumanizing rhetorical move.  Autism Speaks responds to ToM research as if it were Truth with a capital “t.”  This leads to the following disconcerting conclusion: pseudoscience (ToM) leads to pseudoadvocacy (Autism Speaks).  This leads to Autism Speaks advocating for the parents of autistic children by conquering the autistic through dehumanizing enthymemes found within pseudoscientific theories like ToM thereby muting autistic people into a crippling silence which Autism Speaks then uses as further warrant for eradicating autism.

Drawing from disability studies and the rhetorical perspectives on semiotics, terministic screens, and the rhetoric of science, my culminating project is built to answer two primary questions.  First, how does Autism Speaks have the authority to pursue the objective of the eradication of autism?  Second, who does Autism Speaks really advocate for?

Accordingly, in this proposal, I explain the initial motivation behind my research; present a methodology that unites disability studies with rhetoric of science, and apply this new framework to Theory of Mind research; analyze findings from a preliminary study of the Autism Speaks website; provide a rationale and overview of the full study; and describe the larger societal implications and significance of this project.


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